American Samoa Grateful for Valley Help

December 3, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Ten weeks ago, an earthquake and tsunami in the Samoan Islands mobilized volunteers in Fresno to gather and send relief supplies. And it moved a surgeon with ties to the Central Valley to head to American Samoa's only hospital to help treat the injured.By phone this week, elementary school Vice Principal, Tino Roberts of American Samoa, told us what she and her 2-hundred students saw as the monster wave swept in, "It was only one wave. It came all at one time. And we saw from the mountain, the water receding back out." Her choice to climb to higher ground kept everyone safe. But the aftermath would leave more than one hundred fifty people dead and many injured.

Former Selma surgeon Linda Halderman left her Sacramento job a week later to volunteer her skills to help the survivors: "The people on American Samoa are Americans, they're United States nationals. This is our country too."

Here in Fresno the Samoan community began gathering relief supplies to send soon after the first weeks of the disaster.

On the island funerals were being organized and many were for children. One little boy treated by Halderman was airlifted to Hawaii. He did not survive, "I attended his funeral last Monday."

Amid the sadness were rays of hope. Three weeks ago the island schools reopened Tino explained, "We, the grown ups, have to be mentally and physically strong for our kids and that's what the kids saw."

They are, says Halderman, a remarkably tough and resilient people, "I feel vey privileged, both as a doctor and a visitor."

Back in Fresno Reverend Kenny Lafaele of the Samoa Christian Center told us that's exactly how volunteers should feel, "It's not about doing something good for you but it's about doing something for somebody or for other people."

For now destruction, loss and tropical beauty share this island. With help from people and places like California's central valley healing is underway. Thanks, says Tino, to so many who came to help, "I'm pretty sure everybody is going to be ready for Christmas but slowly everything's moving, getting back to normal."

Doctor Halderman has decided to make volunteering at the American Samoa hospital a yearly commitment.


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